In Part 2 of our conversation with southern gospel greats Mark Lowry and Jason Crabb, the artists offer up their thoughts on how they balance such a loaded tour and sharing the stage with a heart for God’s leading, the challenges of performing and worshipping with a fresh spirit every night, and we get the scoop on new projects in the works from both artists. So sit back, join us as a fly on the wall, and listen in!
Soul-Audio: Now, I was going to ask you, Mark especially, because you left the Vocal Band to take some time off but here you are out on all of these dates…
Mark Lowry: No, I left the Vocal Band to quit. I wasn’t just taking time off. Well, I called it a sabbatical so people wouldn’t get nervous but I was done. I figured that I’ve said the Gospel every way I know how and if you need to hear it again, watch a video! It’s all recorded. I’ve never had an unrecorded thought. I mean, everything I think is on YouTube or somewhere. And then God threw this at me. I mean, literally, threw it. Through a company, a promoter, God brings me together with The Martins. I’ve always wanted to travel with The Martins. Since 1992 when I met the Martins.
Jason Crabb: You were the reason that Bill Gaither had even seen them.
Mark: Well, Michael English and I are but nevertheless, it just never has worked out. But now it has. And then, a few months later they bring him (Jason) into the picture and I’m trying to figure out, how’s that going to work? Because we’ve got only so much time on stage, but boy, does it work! We just all give up a little. And he gave up a little and I give up a little and The Martins give up some time. Like Gaither did, he has you go out and hit your long ball. You can’t do everything you do but we’re going to make sure The Martins sing “The Promise.” He probably needs to sing “Through the Fire” every night, at least a piece of it. But yet I don’t want to restrict them to where if the Lord lays something on their heart, because that can take us in a whole different direction that I hadn’t even thought of. And then the Lord lays some thought on my heart to go with that and it just goes it this…I’m getting chills just talking about it! I love it when God hijacks the thing like that.
Jason: That’s the good thing about the three because if it goes, if Mark feels it needs to go a direction, everybody is keen to that and nobody cares. If The Martins sing eight songs and Mark sings two and I only sing one, it doesn’t matter. If that’s what God wanted for that night, then everybody is right with it.
Mark: You know, I read all my Facebook pages and somebody put one comment that said the came to one concert with me and The Martins and they said, “Disappointed. It really should have been #MarkwatchesTheMartinssing.” Because I just had them sing a lot that night. They were upset that I didn’t do more. And I thought, well, shoot. Because they did buy a ticket and they are the most important thing in the audience to me. I mean, they’ve done one hundred percent of what we’ve asked them to do; they’ve paid the entire amount and we need to give them one hundred percent of what they have paid for.
Mark: But I don’t think about that when I’m out there. Every night’s a clean slate and I don’t know where we’re going. I have an idea and there’s certain things I know, if something tanks, I can do this to pull it out or whatever and you’ve got your safety night but I can’t do the same program every night. Oh my gosh, I would be so bored! That’s the reason I left the Vocal Band both times; I just got bored. If I get bored, God knows I’ll quit. That’s why, He’s very good to me. Because He hasn’t bored me yet. He has not bored me. When He does, I will quit following Him and He knows that. But every time you turn the corner, there’s another diamond laying there. It’s like, who was that who left the food for the little kids in the woods to find their way back home?
SA: Hansel and Gretel?
Mark: God leaves little pieces of cake along my journey to let me know what’s waiting at the house.
SA: Well, you went right into my question there because I was going to ask, does it ever get dry? But if you’ve built in that freedom…
Mark: Even then it can. And there are times when I don’t feel a thing. And I think, “Oh this one tanked!” And then I’ll go out and meet people and it was the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. And I’m like, really? I used to think, “Well, you’re an idiot!”
Mark: I used to think it but I would never say that! But then I realized that God is doing His thing and He was messing with them and He left me alone that night. He was busy with them!
Jason: Yes, I will say it can be dry. If it ever does, it’s usually us that’s the problem.
Mark: Or we could be tired. I know that my health is a big part. I mean, I’ve got to be alert, I’ve got to not have a lot of worries on my mind. I’ve got to have a clean mind. And when I say that I mean, I can’t be thinking about this over here when I get home. For two and a half, three hours, that is not even in my world.
Jason: With what you’re saying there though, I’ve found that there is good therapy for me when I am going through something, whether it’s troubles or whatever. It’s almost like it’s good for me.
Mark: To get out and sing?
Jason: Yes! I do. I feel like it’s my out.
SA: Kind of like a “praise your way through it” kind of thing?
Jason: Well, I really think so. But somebody said the other day, it was a young lady and she was standing up and testifying and she said, “I’ve just lost my father to a tragic accident. I’m going through depression, I’m going through this, I’m going through that.” And they asked me to be worship leader. And I’m thinking, how can I give anybody anything? And she said, it was exactly what I needed because it took my mind off it and it helped me, helping others, knowing that I’m helping others and leading them to Jesus, into his presence. It brought a sense of relief for me and I kind of worked out of it. It’s kind of weird but I do that. Sometimes I don’t. (Laughs)
Mark: That makes sense!
Jason: There’s days when you’ve had a horrible day and you go, “Man, I am not gonna be good for nobody!”
Mark: And then God shows up and in your weakness…
Jason: You are made strong.
Mark: Or He doesn’t. You know, things’ll get worse, get better, or stay about the same. That’s what old Jake Hess always said. But I think He always shows up. I use “show up” but of course He’s there. Where isn’t He? If I make my bed in Hell, He’s gonna show up, the psalmist said. But I like it when I feel Him. There’s a difference. Like when you started singing at soundcheck, “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” that was a wonderful thing for me. I needed to hear that at that moment and I just felt the glory of God come all over me. And it was just me, just my own little self and it wasn’t for the people or for anybody else so I’m blessed to get to hang with these talented people.
SA: Now you both have had the opportunity to come into contact with some pretty big names, whether ministry figures, musicians, and the like. What have you learned from those experiences across your life?
Mark: I’ve learned that they’re all just a pack of freaks like us. That we’re all the same. That the pedestal I had them on I should never have had them on. Not that they’re evil, no, but that they’re human. You know, Billy Graham, he’s just a human. He’s an old man now and he’s going to die one day. And he is just a man that said “Yes” to the Lord; he did nothing more special than anybody else. God used him, he stayed faithful. But I do everyone a disservice that I put on a pedestal. It’s a disservice to them. And one great thing that I’ve learned is that they’re just like us.
SA: Do you ever catch flak for that viewpoint? Like somebody that maybe expects or wants you to keep them on that pedestal?
Jason: Not anybody who’s been doing anything like this for a while.
Mark: Like Bill Gaither. I had him on one before I got to know him and we were on the bus and then I heard him snoring. And his big old nose was just sticking up between the pillows that he sleeps with, he sleeps with a lot of pillows, and I remember thinking, “That is Bill Gaither’s nose!” I was thinking, “I am on the bus with Bill Gaither! I mean, that nose was hanging on his head when he penned the words to ‘He Touched Me.'” All this was going through my head. And then after a while, after you hang around with them, you realize that they argue with their wives, they have trouble with their children. They don’t know how they’re going to do it because the crowds are going down. You know, it’s just life.
SA: So if anything, you’ve developed a deeper sense of grace?
Mark: Oh yeah, life has brought me that.
Jason: For sure. I truly think that if anybody has been doing music, especially in Christian music, for a while, nobody really expects that. If they do, then they’ll want the grace later on.
Mark: My goodness, yes! I can see it in their eyes when they have me on a pedestal; they don’t have to tell me. And I will never know them. I will never really, truly know them. Because how can you be known. They know of me, but they don’t know me. The greatest thing anyone can ever be is known.
SA: Wow, that’s powerful.
Mark: And very few people know me, in that sense. And very few people should know me in that sense. They’re the ones I know. And I’m thankful for what we call “fans,” I hate that word because I’d rather think of them as friends, and without them I’d be at McDonalds saying “Would you like fries with that?” So I’m very grateful for them. But I can see it in your eyes when you’ve got me on a pedestal and it scares the fool out of me. It just scares me that anyone could look up to me like that and I think, what have I done? Have you not heard me? You’ve not really listened. Because I’ve tried to tell you. I am a freak! A freak that needs a Savior. And if you’re just seeing me and not seeing Jesus, I have failed.
Jason: I think what you said about doing them a disservice when you put someone there, it just hit home to me today when you said that. Probably more than ever. Because there are people who I’ve thought that, but then I’ve been allowed to get to know them and I’m like, why did I do that? That’s not fair to them. Why did I try to compare them to Jesus?
Mark: And you’re so disappointed when you find out they’re human.
Mark: And that’s so wrong.
Jason: It’s wrong of me…
Mark: Only you. It’s not their fault. But sometimes you’ve just got to let the children play.
Jason: Oh gosh, what a statement! But people don’t think of it that way, especially the Church does not think of it that way and that’s sad. I mean, that is the best message that needs to be preached today across the world. And if it is heard, truly I believe we can win more people for Jesus Christ, to be followers of Christ, if that statement was made. If you put people on a pedestal then you’re doing them a disservice and you’re the one that’s wrong, not them when they fail.
Mark: And you can’t stop them from doing it but you certainly don’t have to be around them. And I choose not to be. Because I know you’re wrong! My mother almost became a fan and I even avoided her. Because she switched from being my mother to being a fan. I’d be lying on my couch; she’d be taking pictures of me. It was weird! And maybe it wasn’t weird; mothers do take pictures of their kids. But when your mother is pitching you songs…
Jason: (Laughs) That is a good one! My mom has done the same thing!
Mark: That’s why I loved the dementia. Because she forgot she was a songwriter. And from the day she got dementia, she never pitched me another song. I loved that.
SA: Is it easier now, being a little older, to embrace that mentality? Like you said, we’ve all gone through that phase of putting people on a pedestal and whatnot so…
Mark: I don’t have one friend who goes to any of my concerts. I mean, if I’m in town and they hear about it, because I never tell ’em, but when I go home, I don’t talk about my life out there. I mean, it’s all about life there, the real life that I end up talking about on the stage. Even my own family, except my mother, are really fans of my music. And that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t go watch my brother go rent houses; that’s his job! He doesn’t care to come hear me sing. Now he will when we’re in Lynchburg in his backyard because that brotherly guilt thing will kick in but I don’t care if he comes or not. This is my job and it is my calling. And I’m doing the best I can but not everybody’s going to like it. And I kind of like being around people who just aren’t that into it.
Jason: To me, being around people who don’t have anything to do with music, it gives you such a peace that they’re not sizing you up or sizing up what you do. And with some of my friends, I don’t talk about it a lot because I don’t want to give them the opportunity to say, “I don’t listen to your type of music,” you know what I’m saying? (Laughs)
Mark: I will say, it did make me feel pretty good that my brother did like my love songs CD. But yet, it came from a natural thing. He really liked it and he told me. He’s never said “I don’t like what you do” and he loves that I carry the Gospel, he loves the message, but it’s not his style of music. He likes more contemporary, folk guitars and that sort of thing.
Jason: And his love song CD is perfect. Your voice is just like butter on that!
SA: So, before we go, let me ask you, what’s up next for you guys? Jason, I know you’re in the process of writing your new record; how’s that going?
Jason: Really well. Last Monday I flew home and had to listen through some songs and I’ve co-written six tunes that are going to be on the new record and I’ve never done that before.
Mark: You’ve never written before?
Jason: Not really for a record. I might’ve said, “Dad, I’ve got an idea” or something but to truthfully sit in a room with a guy or a girl and write what’s on my heart? I’ve never done that before I got to do this. And the thing that’s rewarding to me about this is…a friend of mine, his wife has breast cancer in a pretty bad way and my wife said “I’m thinking of them, they’re on my mind and the song that you wrote, can I send it to them?” Because it’s perfect for them. It’s called “God Knows What He’s Doing.”
Mark: Is that the name of it? That’s cool.
Jason: Yeah, so she emailed it to him and he said, “That’s the craziest thing because that’s all we can say to each other, when we’re praying. And we played it the other night.” As they’re praying for one another.
Mark: “God Knows What He’s Doing.” Did you write the lyrics, or the music?
Jason: Me and Jason Ingram wrote it.
Mark: So when you say you wrote it, do you feel more comfortable with the music or the lyric?
Jason: A little of both.
Mark: You think you could write one all by yourself?
Jason: I think I could.
Mark: You should try it!
Jason: I haven’t ever done it before but I think I could do it more now…
Mark: You feel more confident…
Jason: Yeah! But from Dad I’ve got a couple of songs that are going to go on there and then one that Jason wrote and I’m going to start recording in January.
SA: Now what’s the vibe of this one? Because the last record had some more contemporary leaps than you’d had before…
Jason: I think this one’s probably going to be more me than anything I’ve ever done.
Mark: More what?
Mark: What does that mean?
Jason: Just raw and like sitting on a guitar amp and singing songs and just rough. Just if I feel that this song really needs to be driven, then that’s what I’m going to do. My record label that I’m with, Provident, they said, which is one of the first times that I’ve ever heard this and I love it! They said, “We want you to make a good record. We don’t care if it fits this box or whatever. We’ll deal with that later. Just make a record that you want.” And they put me with the right people to do that.
SA: That’s awesome. And you, Mark?
Mark: Well, I’m working on a new CD just because I need some new songs. I don’t have a label, I’m doing it myself. I don’t care about a label, I don’t care if anybody else sells it; I just need tracks. I need new tracks.
SA: Are you writing for this or…?
Mark: No, I just pick songs. I’m like the Johnny Mathis of Christian music. As long as it says something great, I don’t care if it’s a cover, it just has to be good. It’s got to have meat on the bones. Sometimes you’ll make a record and its like, “well, that’s just a filler.” Well, I don’t like fillers because you’re wasting three minutes and you multiply that by thousands of people and you have wasted a lot of time. Like we’re doing “Too Much to Gain to Lose,” I love that message. Things like “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” another Dottie Rambo song that we’re going to record. “How We Love.” That’s the song that made me do the new record because I wish I could find ten more just like it. It’s by Beth Nielsen Chapman.
Jason: It is phenomenal!
Mark: Isn’t it a great song?
Jason: I’m telling you, it is one of the best lyrics that just lays it out.
Mark: It’s brilliant. Beth Nielsen Chapman. She’s recorded it and Cynthia Clawson sang it at my home at a party one night and oh, man. I felt like one of my dogs. Because you know how when I talk to my dogs they’ll just look at me and tilt their heads just so like they’re trying to understand what I’m saying? And it was like, “I’m hearing from home right now; now pay attention.” And I’m just like, whoa! That was the best thing that happened that whole retreat.
Jason: Cynthia Clawson is kind of like the Emmylou Harris of gospel.
Mark: Yeah, it’s a great voice.
Jason: I love to hear her and Michael (English) sing together. They did a song together and she was singing those parts and Michael was…I think you sang on it too!
Mark: I might have.
Jason: I just can’t think of it. I’m going to have to go back.
Mark: You’re 38!
Mark: Are you 38?
Jason: I will be before this tour ends about. I love that “Home” song you send too, that B.J. Thomas song?
Mark: (Singing) “Home is where the heart is…”
Jason: Yeah, but what’s the other one?
Mark: “Home Where I Belong.”
Jason: That’s a good one too. I love that song!
SA: Okay, last question. Favorite lyric?
Mark: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, were every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.” I love that. I would have written that had I thought of it. But I wasn’t born yet. It was found on the walls of an insane asylum.
Jason: I really don’t know if I’ve ever really thought of that, like what is my favorite lyric.
Mark: I’ve got a lot of them but that’s my favorite.
Jason: I really can’t say. There’s just so many. Truthfully, to me, it’s almost like a season thing. It’s like this song will hit home to me. Like, the “Home Where I Belong” song, the other night I just couldn’t get that off my mind. I just love that lyric for right now in this place that I’m in.
Mark: Well, as you write songs, write pretty melodies. There’s so few pretty melodies. You go listen to all the melodies of the American Songbook, they never stayed on the same note long. I mean, those melodies…
Jason: It was different. I feel like they put more time and effort and just made sure that they were just right.
Mark: Perfect rhymes.